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OPENING WEEKEND: WVU Baseball Opens 2019 Season in the Peach State

Can the Mountaineers get off to a hot start in Georgia?

Alek Manoah delivers a pitch.
John Lowe/The Daily Athenaeum

The West Virginia Mountaineers baseball team will begin their 2019 season this weekend in Georgia as they take on a trio of teams in the Atlanta Challenge. A challenging weekend of baseball will include matchups against Kennesaw State (Friday), Georgia State (Saturday) and Georgia Tech (Sunday). Can the Mountaineers get off to a hot start to their campaign?

If you missed our season preview on Monday, you can find it here.

Kennesaw State Owls

On Friday, the Mountaineers will take on KSU in Kennesaw, Georgia. Last season, the Owls finished 25-30 (11-10), good enough for 3rd place in the Atlantic Sun conference. In the preseason Coaches Poll, the Owls were picked to finish 5th in the conference.

WVU will start our ace and Preseason All-American Alek Manoah (Jr., RHP). Last season, Manoah (3-5, 4.00 ERA) struck out 60 batters in just 54.0 innings. His outstanding growth at the Cape Cod Summer League is what garnered him national attention, so we can expect him to have a fantastic season on the hill for the Mountaineers.

KSU will likely put Brooks Buckler (Sr., RHP) on the bump for their season opener on Friday, although there has been no official word yet from the program. Buckler (4-4, 3.31 ERA) had a good Junior season, throwing 81.2 innings while striking out 48 and walking 21.

Kennesaw State boasts two players on the Atlantic Sun Preseason All-Conference team:

Terence Norman (Jr., OF) was named to the 2018 All-Conference First Team after hitting .333 with 67 hits and 32 RBI’s.

Tyler Simon (So., SS) was named a Freshman All-American last season, as well as to the All-Conference Second Team after hitting .311 with 55 hits, including 15 extra-base hits and 26 RBI’s.

Georgia State Panthers

On Saturday, the Mountaineers will face off against the Panthers in Atlanta. Last season, GSU went 26-29 (10-19), which was 5th in the Sun Belt East Division. They are projected to again finish 5th in the division according to the Sun Belt Preseason Coaches Poll.

WVU will start the southpaw, Jackson Wolf (So., LHP). Last year, Wolf (1-1, 4.07 ERA) made 2 starts, striking out 24 batters in 24.1 innings. The 6-7 lefty from Gahanna, Ohio will look to make his mark on the Mountaineers starting rotation this season.

GSU will put Jake Rogers (Sr., RHP) on the mound on Saturday. Last season, Rogers (4-6, 4.92 ERA) threw 71.1 innings, while striking out and walking 47 batters apiece. Control is clearly an issue for Rogers, so the Mountaineers may be able to capitalize on getting free baserunners via the walk.

Georgia State has a Preseason All-American of their own in Hunter Gaddis (9-4, 2.95 ERA in 2018). Thankfully, the Mountaineers will not have to face him as he is going to start their season opener on Friday evening against the University of Richmond.

In the lineup, the Panthers have two Preseason All-Conference players in their lineup based off their performances from last season:

Brandon Bell (Sr., OF) batted .333 with 5 HR’s and 26 RBI’s.

Ryan Glass (So., 1B/3B) hit .241 with 7 HR’s and 19 RBI’s.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

To conclude the Atlanta Challenge, the Mountaineers will play the dangerous Yellow Jackets on Sunday afternoon. Last season, Georgia Tech went 31-27 (14-16) with superstar catcher Joey Bart, who was drafted 2nd overall by the San Francisco Giants in June’s First Year Player Draft. Coming into this spring, the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish 5th in the ACC Coastal Division in the Preseason Coaches Poll.

WVU will throw Kade Strowd (Jr., RHP) out there to start his first game of the season. Last year, Strowd (4-7, 5.74 ERA) threw 62.2 innings, while also striking out 61 batters. Coach Mazey has said that Strowd has thrown the ball well this fall, so we can expect to see much better numbers from the veteran right-hander this season.

It’s unclear who will start for Georgia Tech, as Coach Danny Hall has named no fewer than 5 guys who could fill that No. 3 starting job. I think that WVU will see either Brant Hurter (So., LHP) or Amos Willingham (Jr., RHP) on the bump come Sunday afternoon.

Even with the loss of Bart, Georgia Tech still has plenty of weapons offensively:

Tristin English (R. Jr., 1B) is a preseason First-Team All-American and is on the preseason Golden Spikes Award watch list after hitting .279 with 6 HR’s and 60 RBI’s last year.

Kyle McCann (Jr., C) is coming off a strong season (.300, 15 HR’S, 45 RBI’s) after which he was named to the All-ACC 3rd team.

The Mountaineers will be challenged this weekend by three quality opponents on their home turf. With Manoah, Wolf and Strowd toeing the rubber for WVU, can the Mountaineers start the season on a high note? It’s time to find out!

Check in about an hour after every game this weekend for a recap of the action.